The British are Coming…

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Back in June of 2013 I was contacted by an assistant producer from the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) in London.

Emma, was interested in creating a TV story about Forrest’s Treasure that would include a searcher as well as Forrest. The story would be part of a larger series about treasure around the world. Emma’s voice sounded young and delightfully British. We chatted on the phone for awhile and then she wanted to know when I was going to be headed out to look again for the treasure. Mid-August in the Yellowstone Region was my next planned outing. Emma thought that period and location would work for her group as well. In the next few days we struck an agreement whereby a BBC film crew would fly from London and come along for a day with me as I searched for Forrest’s hidden millions.

BearSprayAs the date approached Emma needed to know what the film crew should pack along in the wilds of Montana. I suggested long pants to protect legs from pokey underbrush. Long sleeve shirts to protect arms from intolerable bug bites. Plenty of water and oh yes, bear spray, since we would be in the finest and most bear populated grizzly habitat in the lower forty-eight.
“Bear spray”, repeated Emma. “What is that? Some sort of foul smelling scent you spray all over yourself that the bears don’t like?”
“No”, I replied. “You spray it at the bears when they get too close,. It’s like Mace.”
A quiet moment followed.
Then Emma asked, “How close do grizzly bears get before you spray them?”
“Twenty-five feet or so”, I responded.
Another quiet moment.
“I was really hoping to keep them a bit farther away than twenty-five feet.” Emma added.

Lummi Island in the Salish Sea

Lummi Island in the Salish Sea

I left Lummi Island on August 7th for a two day drive to Yellowstone Country. It was warm and blue when I left the island.

Camp where the sun wakes me in the morning

Camp where the sun wakes me in the morning

On the 10th of August my job was to make camp and have coffee ready in the morning when the BBC folks arrived at the farthest place we could bring vehicles, up the road, near my spot. My spot is located north of Hebgen Lake, near West Yellowstone, Montana. In a broader sense it’s a somewhat well searched area but I believe the precise spot I’m interested in had been passed up by many others. I felt good about the area. I could get here by following the clues…yet another spot Forrest’s poem could lead me…Number 41 in my accumulated search locations to date.

Harebells

Harebells

Sulfer Paintbrush

Sulfer Paintbrush

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The area was resplendent with about two dozen different prairie and creekside wildflowers still in bloom. At 7am the sun was just beginning to heat up the lodgepole pine along the creek and they, in turn, were beginning to release that incredible scent of sweet pine that fills the great outside here on warm summer days.

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Dallas Campbell reacting to all the grizzly bear information near the trailhead

The crew arrived after stopping in town to film Dallas Campbell, their presenter, what we would call the host or reporter in the USA, purchasing a can of bear spray at one of the local shops on Yellowstone Avenue. My cowboy coffee was boiling, the fire was hot and although no bears had been spotted near camp, there were reports of them in the area, including a sighting the previous day of a mom and cubs a mile or so below us.

A grizzly bear just outside of Yellowstone National Park

A grizzly bear just outside of Yellowstone National Park

Dallas and I chatted for awhile over black coffee about my involvement in the treasure hunt. My impressions of Forrest and my thoughts about the kind of place Forrest would have hidden his cache.

What I sensed about Dallas was that he was very enthused about the treasure hunt. For a guy who has traveled the world and been involved in some of the finest science and technology television programming ever made, Dallas is a down to earth guy. He is not stuffy or “above” the common man, like so many TV personalities in the States. He is a pleasure to be around and a joy to treasure hunt with.

Dallas getting ready to place an "X" on the BBC Treasure Map

Dallas getting ready to place an “X” on the BBC Treasure Map. Emma, Julius and Phil in the back.

This was not Dallas’ first treasure hunt by any means. He hosted the incredibly popular BBC series, Egypt’s Lost Cities, where he used satellite technology to hunt for previously undiscovered treasures among the ruins of ancient Egypt’s sphinxes and pyramids. He was also host for a number of other BBC and Discovery Channel series about science, the environment and technology before starting this new series about world treasures.

The crew sets up for a shot that will introduce Forrest to viewers

The crew sets up for a shot above camp that will introduce Forrest to viewers

Dallas likened the hunt to a fairy tale. Not unlike Little Red Riding Hood trying to get to grandma’s house along a path fraught with distractions. Or in another example, like the yellow brick road of Dorothy fame, where we all try to follow the path to find a treasure only to discover that we already had the real treasure, all the time…family and friends.

Sophie consulting with Julius about a shot

Sophie consulting with Julius about a shot

The rest of the crew were likewise very experienced and a delight to spend time with. Sophie, the series director, producer and writer was the producer for one of the BBC’s most popular reality TV series, Last Woman Standing. Where five British, female athletes traveled the world to compete in indigenous sports. On our location, Sophie watched every shot the camera recorded and imagined how everything would edit together. She supervised the entire crew and in the end, she is the person responsible for making sure the events of the day unpuzzle into a clever and intriguing story.

Julius with his Red Epic fitted out for documentary work

Julius with his Red Epic fitted out for documentary work

Julius is the team’s delightful and savvy cameraman and director of photography. A remarkably cheery fellow, responsible for a slew of technical gear and, in the end, coming back with world class footage for each story in the series. His Red Epic camera and support gear, batteries and monitors and tripod weighed nearly as much as me. Julius has several BBC series behind him including work with Sophie and Dallas all around the universe.

Phil and Dallas listen as Sophie describes the next set-up

Phil and Dallas listen as Sophie describes the next set-up

Phil is the sound recordist with the team. Responsible for not only all spoken words but also natural sound and ambiance. Very few TV viewers appreciate the contribution good sound recording makes to the overall loveliness of a high quality production. Even in our simple case, it’s not an easy task to get clear sound from a couple of guys walking in a stream torrent or climbing up hills and as far apart from each other as several hundred feet. It’s an art form and technological feat that most viewers just take for granted.

Emma shows off her USMC tattoo hand blazed by Dallas with a Sharpie

Emma shows off her USMC tattoo hand blazed by Dallas with a Sharpie

Emma is the series assistant producer and in the USA would probably also be called the production coordinator. It is her job to line up all the participants and locations for all the episodes. She spends almost all of her time worrying about what is going to happen next. She is the company planner. Without Emma the story ideas remain just that…ideas. She makes things happen…on time…on budget! So, for example while the crew was chasing me around in the streams and under rocks, Emma was calling Australia and London lining up what the crew would be filming in a day or two. Making sure that everything from flights to bear spray were not going to fail. Some day, Emma will be a series producer and director. Be nice to Emma!

This geographic spot was new to me. I’d never searched here before but I’d been nearby. The poem led me directly to this spot just as it had with so many others I’ve examined. The difference here was that I felt I also knew what the “blaze” was before I had even seen the spot. This was a new experience. In every other location I’ve searched I always felt I would have to identify the blaze when I got to the area, but not here.

Our "no paddle up your creek" stream

Our “no paddle up your creek” stream

This place was along the fault line of the 1959 earthquake that shook out Quake Lake and dropped most of the area south of the fault 15-20 feet. A giant snap that killed, frightened, destroyed and changed. One geologic mini-event that lasted just a few seconds but still has repercussions some 55 years later.

My sense was that the blaze could be the place where this particular creek crossed over that fault line and plummeted 15-20 feet downward. Although I had not seen the place I imagined it to be a picturesque waterfall. And below the waterfall…directly below the waterfall…. might be Forrest’s chest.

Follow the yellow brick road

Follow the yellow brick road

This was the spot I intended to go to with the BBC crew. About a quarter mile hike from where we would leave our vehicles at the end of the road, this seemed like a good place. The broader area is the setting for a story in Forrest’s book and the location is inside the Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone…no place for the meek.

Everyone was in a good mood as we headed up the trail. Six of us. The crew humping enough TV gear to finance a small war if sold at market value and armed with enough bear spray and handguns to start one.

A remote camera securely attached to a "bear tree" in order to see what the grizzly's are up too

A remote camera securely attached to a “bear tree” in order to see what the grizzly’s are up too

Within minutes we left the trail to get closer to the creek as we marched toward the fault line. Proof that we were in grizzly bear territory was evidenced by a camera attached to a “bear tree” in a small opening in the woods. I think its presence increased everyone’s awareness of the fact that we were no longer the top predators where we walked.

As we approached the line I could hear the rush of water increase. The creek was getting noisier. We were closing in on the fall, but it was a tangled mess below. Logs, stumps boulders all tossed about like toys in a child’s room. A minefield of potential ankle twisters and shin wackers. When Dallas and I finally got to the base of the fault it was not what I expected. Not a lovely fifteen foot cascade over a stone ledge surrounded by hanging mosses and a transparent pool at the bottom suitable for storing a bronze chest. Instead it was a rubble canyon through dirt and gravel. Made over fifty-five years of high water and low. It was unattractive, unappealing and not a likely resting spot for Forrest’s treasure. I was very disappointed. I could only stare at it, like an unfulfilled parent, mesmerized by what it had failed to become.

Like good soldiers we poked and prodded in shallow pools and surveyed the rubble as best we could looking for hidey places. None were discovered.

We decided to push onward, up the creek without a paddle and see if we could locate a better place not far from where we were. Above the fault the creek was a series of small cascades and pools as it weaved it’s way through walls of lighter colored granite. If it was to be up here we would have to locate a suitable blaze.

 

Further up the creek less traveled

Further up the creek less traveled

All told, Dallas, Sophia, Emma, Phil, Julius and I spent several hours above the fault examining the creekside. Imagining blazes. At one point things got particularly exciting as we discovered a neat cavern behind a small cascade with rocks that appeared piled by hand to conceal what might be behind.

In the end, my dear friends, the chest, if here, is still wild and free, available for any of you to better my location and discover. But I must warn you. The Brits and I scoured the creek and it’s neighborhood relentlessly.

The crew and subject after a long day of humping gear and framing shots and standing in obnoxiously cold water

The crew and subject after a long day of humping gear and framing shots and standing in obnoxiously cold water

There is another creek, older and lovlier…not far away, where I spent the very next day searching with relatives of Forrest and a charming journalist and novelist by the name of Porochista Khakpour in a location dictated by Forrest himself in a whimsical moment of teasing his kin into taking up the splendid chase.

More to come…

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Julius Brighton, the cinematographer who shot the story for the BBC put the video up on YouTube in 2015. You can see it at:

 

Filming Forrest Fenn…

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It’s late April and I find myself at Forrest’s home to do a little filming for this blog. I have a few things in mind. Forrest showed me the “unique” books in his collection a few months ago and I found the introduction fascinating. First because I didn’t know the kind of books he collects even existed. I’ve always thought of books as containers of information and not as items of art or as collections of rare documents.
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Forrest is also working on his new book, Too Far To Walk, and I am hoping we can tape a short informational piece about it. Commentors on this blog have asked me what the book is about? What kinds of stories it will tell? It turns out that his designer Susan and his producer, Lou, are coming by the house to show Forrest their first design layouts and get his impressions. I think that might be perfect footage to intertwine with whatever Forrest has to say about his book. Since the book will include more about Peggy than The Thrill of the Chase included, I am hoping I can get her on film as well. She is very sweet and so far has successfully dodged all my efforts to get her recorded.
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Forrest and his friend Suzanne Sommers at the San Lazaro ruins

Forrest and his friend Suzanne Sommers at the San Lazaro ruins

I was also visiting Forrest a few months earlier when he showed a German reporter his archeology lab. This is the place where Forrest brings all the recovered artifacts from his ruin, the ancient pueblo at San Lazaro. Here the artifacts are studied, cleaned, evaluated and moved to storage. The lab is visually interesting but even more impressive is Forrest’s presentation of these beautiful artifacts. He has made some remarkable discoveries, that have led to new ideas about the skills and knowledge held by the folks that lived there and how things changed when the Spanish arrived in the pueblo. Keep in mind that San Lazaro was occupied for about 500 years starting around 1180AD. The entombed material and wealth of knowledge unearthed from San Lazaro is fascinating. I hope he can share his enthusiasm for that place, and his knowledge of the ruins, on camera.
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The woolly worm...a wet fly

The woolly worm…a wet fly

Forrest also agreed to tie his infamous “woolly worm” fishing fly on camera and talk a little bit about fishing and what it has brought to his life. I think such a discussion might shed light on Forrest’s summers, as a young man, in Yellowstone.
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We only have a short time to do all this. I have to get on the road pointed northwest very soon. It’s a two and a half day drive back to my home and I am expected back at the studio on time. There is also the TV crew from Japan who are hoping to get some time with Forrest. It’s often quite hectic around his house. Forrest has more going on than a threat analyst at the CIA. Most of which he orchestrates like a symphony conductor.
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If you’ve watched the credits at the end of a decent documentary film you know that it takes a pack of film geeks to get things done. There are lighting folks and camera operators, make-up artists, hair dressers, sound recordists, producers, directors and folks from the bank taking notes on your every wasted movement. There are usually a couple of interns and depending on the complexity of the interview there might be an ambulance with medics hanging around or possibly someone from your insurance group making safety suggestions….”Don’t trip on that cord…”.
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Okay, I’m making all this up. Documentary film crews are generally small and nimble teams. Mine is so small that it’s just me. This is both good and bad. On the bad side is that it’s just me to get everything done well and I’m not that dependible. On the good side is that it’s generally easier to get folks comfortable talking to a camera when there is just one person around than when there is a whole crew fussing about. It’s less intimidating for the interviewee.
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On this interview it’s just Forrest and me and we get along pretty well. Conversely, I have no one else to point my finger at when things go bad. I could blame Forrest when the shot is out of focus or the sound is a little hollow or the lighting makes him look like a banshee in a bed sheet…but I doubt he’ll step up and shoulder the responsibility. So anything that sucks can only be relegated to my inattentiveness.
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I’ve been a professional filmmaker since I was 18. So, you’d think that I would not forget things like… pressing the “record” button. You’d be wrong. Forty-seven years operating cameras, sound gear, lights, under all the worst conditions in the universe and still I make dufuss mistakes. Sometimes the same dufuss mistake…over and over…
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The good news is that the viewers don’t know what you lost…only what you included and if you have sufficient skill to cover your mistakes and tell a story…all will work out in the end…
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Forrest is a great person to work with in an interview. He can speak extemporaneously, and  at length, on many different subjects, even the one you want him too.  And more important…he does not speak in run-on sentences. Next to someone who will not talk at all, the speaker who does not put a period and a short stop at the end of a complete thought will drive a filmmaker to the funny farm.
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The great office space and interview set

The great office space and interview set

Another attractive feature when filming Forrest, is his office. The ceilings are high, which is great for hiding lights. It has so many wonderful backgrounds to choose from…shelves of beautiful books, indian artifacts, his fireplace, buffalo skulls, dolls, bronzes…pick a wall..any wall. Unfortunately Forrest likes, most often, to sit at his desk, in his comfortable chair. Ordinarily this would not be a bad thing…but his chair is an overstuffed wing back affair with a very high back. So in a tight or medium shot of him all we see behind Forrest, is chair. No beautiful office space. It’s hard to take advantage of that great space when Forrest is in his favorite seat. If I had a curvy sweet-talker along she could suggest that he sit in a different chair and probably be successful but if I suggest it he’ll just ignore me and plunk down in his favorite piece of furniture.
However, this is the great shot you get of the office when Forrest sits in that overstuffed, ultra-winged comfy chair

However, this is the great shot you get of the office when Forrest sits in that overstuffed, ultra-winged comfy chair

You probably don’t even consider how you’d film in a room when you enter it. It’s a curse!
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In Forrest's lab where the space is small and the lighting is strong

In Forrest’s lab where the space is small and the lighting is mean

The lab, on the other hand, is a difficult place to film. The room is very small. There is no ability to add light and the existing lights are directly overhead causing nasty bright spots and deep shadows. Please understand that when I say that “there is no ability to add lights…” I am speaking as a documentarian who carries with him one or two lights and rarely gets to use them because there is no time. A documentarians lighting kit is the sun and whatever lights already exist in a location because we cover things NOW. We rarely get the chance to take hours to set up lights, repaint walls and put make-up and costumes on the subjects we film as they would in a dramatic film or pseudo-reality TV series. What we see is what you get.
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The pottery shards tell thousands of stories

The pottery shards tell thousands of stories

Now the other interesting (or not) device that you get when one person is doing all the filming from one position is a lot of zooming. I hate zooming. I like a nice clean cut from a wide shot to a tight shot…but if all you have is one camera you have to learn to be flexible in what you embrace. Take for instance the Pottery Shard clip. I hope that it does not make you seasick but I felt it was necessary to show the object he was talking about nice and tight and also Forrest’s face…zoom in…zoom out…please don’t watch if you are subject to epileptic seizures. By the way, that pottery shard pile is in Forrest’s backyard.
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The other technique you can employ to accommodate tight shots and wider shots with one camera is to have the camera on your shoulder and actually step in closer and then back. This is the technique I used in the lab. You can see me weaving about with the camera and then following Forrest’s hands when he pulls out the drawer. You can also see my big fat head throw a shadow across those artifacts…no time or space to relight…
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So take a look at the new batch of videos I filmed over at Forrest’s. They are called the Gone Fishing Interviews and the link to them is on the top right of this very page.
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Send me a note or yell at me in public on this page if you find the work unwatchable. I’m also taking suggestions for what you would like Forrest to talk about in our next batch of interviews. He won’t answer the question “So where did you hide it Forrest?”…I tried that one…
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